BNS, Jackson head to court over fees

THE landmark lawsuit brought by Opposition member of the House of Representatives Fitz Jackson against Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica (BNS) will now head to court after attempts to settle the matter through mediation ended without resolution.

Jackson had sued the bank for charging him a fee to encash a cheque in 2019, contending that it is illegal under the Bills of Exchange Act which denotes a cheque as an unconditional negotiable instrument. The fee that was charged was $385.

“The final mediation meeting between the Bank of Nova Scotia and myself took place today (June 13, 2023) regarding the unlawful charging of fees for the encashment of cheques. The mediation exercise, which is a requirement of the courts, was not successful in resolving the case. As such, this case will proceed to trial in the Supreme Court of Jamaica,” Jackson told the Jamaica Observer in a voice note on Tuesday.

The meeting on Tuesday was the second attempt at getting a settlement outside of court. The first meeting was held on April 26.

He added that he and his legal team “remain extremely confident that the court’s ruling on this matter will confirm the unlawfulness of such practice”, adding that he hopes that the matter will be concluded speedily.

Jackson took the matter to court last July after failing to get the Bank of Jamaica, as the regulator of BNS, to use its moral suasion to get the commercial bank to discontinue charging the fee. The matter was also raised in Parliament with Jackson finding no success in getting any resolution.

“We had two meetings [with myself, the mediators, and BNS] and at the end of it we realised we weren’t going to get any resolution, especially with what we were seeking from them; they were not prepared to deliver,” Jackson said.

He declined to give details of what was discussed in the mediation, citing that it was confidential.

He, however, said all he is seeking is a declaratory order from the court to say the charging of a fee to encash cheques is a breach of the Bills of Exchange Act, which would, in effect, be a declaration that the fee is unlawful.

He also wants the court to order banks to repay the fees that were charged illegally and is seeking damages which, he admits, would not be a great amount, based on legal advice.

“If the court declares that the charging of a fee is a breach of the law, then it will apply to all banks,” he said. “We were contemplating enjoining the BOJ as a party to the suit, but legal advice was to sue BNS first and bring BOJ in after, if necessary,” he continued.

“I am fully aware of the implications for BNS and the other banks, because a declaration that they have been illegally charging fees would bring significant reputational damage. That reputational damage is that the court would have established that they are breaking the law by charging the fee, both regionally and internationally, especially for a bank like BNS.”

Jackson said he was open to a settlement and had a sketch in his mind about what would be required, “But I don’t think they would be prepared to contemplate it,” he said, but declined to give details.